Trying out the new wheels: Rufford and Martin Mere


Having collected our new campervan last month we were keen to try it out before heading off on our exploration of the British Coast. We decided to go for one night fairly locally to visit somewhere we had not been to before and to revisit an old favourite. Rufford Old Hall is situated in Lancashire, not the part I walked through earlier in the year, but west of the M6. It is now owned by the National Trust having been built in 1530 and owned by the Hesketh family until 1936.

Later wings were added in the 17th and early 19th centuries. We were there not long after it opened and on a week-day, it was quiet. So much so that the room guides jumped on us as soon as we entered a room and were keen to talk whereas I was happy to look around in peace. They had a number of items of furniture, ornaments and paintings etc which had belonged to the family and had been returned to the house. They also had a collection of antique maps of Lancashire including some by John Speed and Robert Morden. Photography inside is only permitted in the Great Hall which has a fabulous carved roof visible from a window in the first floor drawing-room.

Outside there is the garden and woodland to explore. Volunteers were tidying up after the recent gales and torrential rain. Celandines and violets were in flower and bluebell leaves emerging in the woodland so there should be a good display in a few weeks time. We were very thankful that the weather had improved and the nearby Rufford Branch of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal was so still that the trees were reflected in it.

There is a cafe and a few shelves of pre-loved books but nothing I fancied. We spent the night in a nearby Britstop. This is a network of pubs and other places which once you have joined by buying the current year’s catalogue, allow you to park up for the night for free. We stopped at the Farmer’s Arms in Bispham and after enjoying a meal in the pub, settled down on a very misty and wet evening. The following day, the 20th March is the Spring Equinox and a super moon is supposed to be visible but the cloud made this look unpromising. The next morning was a pleasant surprise with clearing cloud and sun. Our destination was Martin Mere which is run by the Wildlife and Wetland Trust. We last visited several years ago in winter as many migrating birds stop off or stay here including 2000 Whooper Swans from Iceland. At this time of year they have all returned north. It is divided into two parts, one devoted to the nature reserve and the other houses endangered birds from around the world. In the nature reserve were many familiar birds including Mallard

a Black-Headed Gull

and a Shelduck Diving.

There were other geese, ducks and waterfowl in the distance. Some people had recently heard a bittern in the reeds. The last time we heard one was in 2003 on Barra but heard nothing today. There were so many other birds in the other half:
A red-Crowned Crane

An Avocet

Spring had indeed sprung as we had our first coffee sitting outside this year before heading home on a relatively quiet motorway for once.

A few days in Paris


St Pancras International is a very civilised station and I wish others were like it. Unfortunately, I was not able to enjoy it to the full as I became unwell and wondered if I was going to be able to make the trip. However, I managed to get things under control as we boarded the Eurostar and in just over two hours were at the Gare du Nord in Paris. The station has had a problem with expensive unlicensed preying on passengers, but we found it easy to follow the signs to the licensed taxi rank. Soon we were at our hotel where I rested and recovered. This is at least our fourth trip to Paris, so we have seen most of the sights and were happy to just wander. We are close to the Arc de Triomphe

so then walked down the Champs Elysee which has only two closed shops but lots of temporary fencing piled up from the recent Maillot Jeune demonstrations. We did see a few demonstrators a couple of days later near the Arc. The American Embassy was well-guarded.I went to Fauchon on the Place de Madeleine to do some shopping and passed by Le Village Royale, a small upmarket shopping and restaurant court off the Rue Royale which was today decorated with umbrellas

and displaying bronze sculptures by Dirk de Keyzer, a Belgian artist and sculptor.



Le Village hosts regular sculpture exhibitions. Returning along the riverside, statues were glowing in the sunshine and there were views over to the Eiffel Tower.


In the afternoon we walked to the nearest green space, Parc Monceau; which was busy with workers enjoying their lunch in the sunshine. The main gates are huge wrought iron and gold and the park is decorated with statues, ponds with a bridge and various old constructions, none of which are labelled. There are also playgrounds for children. Nearer our hotel was a street market:

And the Église de St Ferdinand

We met up with our friends late afternoon and enjoyed a meal in a nearby Corsican restaurant. Saturday was match day so after a morning walk under blue skies enjoying the buildings it was time to join the crowds on the Metro to the Stade de France in St Denis for the Scotland-France rugby match.

Scotland, probably predictably, lost. Waiting for the crowds to diminish we stopped for a glass of wine at a co-operative in the centre of town. It sold products made by local artists and craftspeople but today the café was holding a special afternoon celebrating a children’s book author and illustrator with some wine. The artist had designed the wine labels.

On Sunday we visited the Musée du Quai Branly which has a fantastic collection of art and culture from Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Our Eurostar tickets gave us 2 for 1 tickets and we spent a few hours inside.



Outside there are gardens with grasses and magnolia trees in bud. Walking back along the riverside in this unseasonable weather, we spotted some hammocks by the Seine.

All too soon it was time to return home.

We had seen plenty of armed police around the city but at the Gare du Nord the army were on duty. On the Eurostar I read that the first Café á Chien has opened in the Marais district. That will have to be on the list for another visit. I finished reading Adam Gopnik’s Paris and the Moon which has been sitting on my bookshelf since I found a copy in Washington DC in 2004. This trip was a good chance to revisit the New Yorker writer’s account of moving from New York to Paris in 1995 where he worked for five years and began to raise his family, observing the differences between the two cultures. It was interesting having made numerous visits to both France and the USA.

The new wheels


Before collecting our new wheels, we spent 10 days in Edinburgh. There were 2 Six Nations rugby matches on consecutive weekends which we attended with friends. The first one took place while there was still some snow on the Pentland Hills.

We met up with several friends and did some trip planning. One other thing I did manage to squeeze in was a trip to the City Art Gallery which had a couple of photographic exhibitions I had wanted to see for a while. The first was Robert Blomfield’s Street Photography which continues until 17 March 2019. He was a doctor but managed to pursue street photography from the 1950s to the 70s. It was only brought to an end when he suffered from a stroke in 1999. His son spent a lot of time sorting out the huge amount of film his father had at home.

The other photographic exhibition was ‘Scotland in Focus’ which included the galleries collection of Scottish photographs from the mid 19th century to the present day.

The final exhibition we saw was ‘Another Country’ which explored contemporary immigration to Scotland, including themes of integration, nationality and identity.
It included work by eleven leading artists from distinct ethnically and culturally diverse backgrounds, all born or currently living in Scotland and using different media.

As photography is not allowed in the galleries, the images are from the gallery website. The exhibitions are free, and the gallery is very central and close to Waverley Station. The adjoining café provided an opportunity to top up the caffeine levels.
On our last morning we were up early to take the train to Leuchars and then a taxi to Anstruther where our vehicle, a van converted to camper was made. We then drove home and for once there were no major motorway problems. The seemingly eternal SMART motorway works on our nearest stretch of the M6 and are due to be completed soon. At last we could see some parts completed since the last time we drove back in early January. At the moments we are kitting out the van and will probably have a trial run in March before starting to tour the coast of Britain. This will be done in stages, fitting around other commitments but we will set off at the beginning of April, starting in Fife and travelling anti-clockwise.

A day in Dundee


The day before we left for Dundee, Edinburgh and the autumn leaves were bathed in sunshine. While we were in Australia the UK seems to have had a fairly mild autumn.

However, this was not to last and by the time our train pulled into Dundee Station, the sky was overcast and the wind was getting up. We had been meaning to re-visit the city for some time, especially since the V&A opened a museum there in September 2018 and James is always keen to come back to the place he was at university in. The new V&A is right on the waterfront in a stunning building. It was designed by Kengo Kuma & Associates from Japan who are also designing the stadium in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.



The collection is devoted to Scottish design in many different areas. The main collection is free to visit and there are additional exhibitions for which a ticket has to be purchased. The current one is on ocean liners. There was so much to see and one thing I enjoyed was The Oak Room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Miss Catherine Cranston who owned tea rooms in Glasgow.

Next to the V&A is Discovery Point; a museum devoted to Antarctic research and the ship Discovery. Dundee had for some time engaged in whaling and so had expertise in constructing ships that could withstand Arctic ice, making it an obvious place to build the first ship constructed for scientific research in the Antarctic. The Discovery had sails but also an auxiliary coal-fired steam engine. There are displays on the construction of the ship which used several different kinds of wood, those who sailed in her, the work they did and the restoration of the Discovery. After looking at the displays in the museum (and trying some of the interactive things if you are brave enough) the ship can be explored, above and below deck.

When we visited some workers were repairing the decking with what looked like traditional methods.

Back in town, penguins are popping up everywhere as part of the Christmas Decorations. Those outside Discovery Point and these in the city centre are present all year.

Another Scottish export was comics. DC Thomson have been publishing newspapers and comics since 1905. Desperate Dan and Minnie the Minx from the Beano are also in the city centre.

Had the weather been better there are riverside walks, boat trips, the Botanic Gardens or a climb up the Law for the view but they will have to wait for another trip. Down in the waiting room at the station there was a wall display:

While living in Dundee, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein

The first ever wireless broadcast took place in Dundee

In 2016 Dundee hosted the UK’s biggest independent video games festival

Dundee is the sunniest city in Scotland. This raised a smile as it was pouring with rain and very windy outside with reports of snow on high ground. Despite Scotrail glitches: announcing a delayed train when it had just departed and telling us as we approached Haymarket that the next stop was Leuchars, we made it back to Edinburgh on time.

Around Australia: reacquainting myself with Melbourne


When I was in Melbourne in 2004 I was living out of town or in one of the suburbs north of the river and working at a university campus in the west of the city. On this visit, I decided to stay in the centre. We spent our first day just wandering around. Very close to our hotel was a Pop-Up Bookshop selling off their stock. The Department stores are all full of dresses and hats for the Melbourne Cup and racing season. Christmas puddings, mince pies and Christmas cards are appearing, and a fake reindeer was being carried over to Federation Square. Up the hill, Flagstaff Gardens is one of the oldest gardens in the city. I had noticed there and at other places, trees are wrapped in metal around the trunk. This may be to prevent non-native creatures climbing up and attacking native wildlife. Some people there were having a morning Tai Chi session. Down the hill a little, near the courthouse we saw a long queue of lawyers in their robes and others waiting to get in. We have always thought our courts have short hours (10-4 usually) but this was 10.25 and the queue was not moving quickly. Back on Flinders Street, Hosier Street is well-known for street art.

but there are numerous other examples around the city. At the Birrarung Marr by the river there are a number of sculptures including this one entitled ‘Angel’ by Deborah Halpern in 1988.

There were a few birds on the river, mainly ducks and gulls but this Little Pied Cormorant, one of Australia’s most common water birds, was sitting on the bank.

The National Gallery of Victoria has a good selection of work by local artists up to the present day. There was a large exhibition entitle ‘Polyverse’ by LA-based and Melbourne-born artist Polly Borland who works in Cibachrome photography and tapestry.

In the 19th and 20th century gallery I particularly liked this almost impressionistic landscape by Sidney Long in 1905

and this painting Echuca Landscape by Fred Williams in 1962.

We had dinner with some friends in the evening. The following morning, we walked up Elizabeth Street to the Queen Victoria Market. It is the largest in the southern hemisphere and you can certainly get most of the food you would need here as well as many other things. Near our hotel on Flinders Street is the remains of an old bookshop which has certainly been liberated.

Fortunately, on the opposite side of the street is City Basement Books which is a great place for good quality secondhand books. The afternoon was spent on a two-hour cruise along the Yarra River. The first hour’s journey was under some of the low bridges in the city centre that can only be sailed under at low tide and out to the port.


After a lot of driving it was very relaxing to have someone else doing the driving and navigation while we just relaxed and watched the city float by. A lot of new buildings have been constructed along the harbourside since I was last here and Federation Square looks quite different.

The second hour is spent going in the opposite direction upstream, past the stadia, botanic gardens and up as far as Herring Island.

On our return to the berth near Federation Square, dozens of rowers and canoeists were on the river making it very tricky for our skipper to turn around and get into position at the berth.

After sunset the city centre looks good at night.

This is Flinders Station:

I particularly liked the poster on the front of St Patrick’s Cathedral ‘Let us Fully Welcome Refugees’.

Tomorrow we must leave and complete the last few days of our journey.

Around Australia: Walpole to Esperance


The first thing we did after leaving Walpole was to drive the few miles east to the Valley of Giants Treetop Walk in Nornalup National Park. The huge Red Tingle Trees (Eucalyptus jacksonii) grow up to 75m tall and 20m in girth. The karri trees seen elsewhere in WA (Eucalyptus diversicolor) can grow up to 90m. These tall trees have been used as lookout posts for forest fires.


The walkway gets up to 40m off the ground and gives great views of the canopy. We saw several birds (including this Australian Ringneck)

but no quokkas which also live on the trees and use the sword grass on the ground to give them cover from predators. When people walk fast on the walkway, it tends to sway a little making photography a bit of a challenge. I was thankful for the image stabilisers on my lenses. There is also a brief glimpse to the landscape outside the park.

We also walked along the ground level Ancient Empire boardwalk. This is free, but you have to pay to go on the Treetop walk. A section of the Bibbelmum Track passes through the valley. It is 1000km and runs from near Perth to Albany. We saw one hiker near the Visitors’ Centre. All too soon it was time to carry on as our destination for the night was Esperance, 374 miles from Walpole. Vineyards are called wineries here but near Denmark, the next town on the South Coast Highway; I saw signs to a meadery and a cidery. Albany was settled before Perth and is the oldest (dating from 1826) and the largest town on this section of the coast. Initially, the British settlers were welcomed by the indigenous people there because they stopped the rape and murder being carried out by whalers and sealers. Unfortunately the Brits then stopped indigenous people coming into their shops and began to remove their children from them. Coming into town, we passed the world’s largest sandalwood oil factory. It has some 19th century buildings in the town centre and I had no problem finding a café to top up my caffeine levels. Down by the shore is a replica ship of the Amity Brig that brought the first settlers here from Sydney.

We had by now left the big trees behind us and the landscape switched between farmland and bush. There were a few more forests but they were for commercial timber. We did not have a kangaroo cross the road in front of us today, but we did have to swerve around one lizard and had the first emu crossing of the trip. As we drove east the landscape got drier and the rivers had less water in them. Near Ravensthorpe we were in big cereal growing area with fields bigger than those in East Anglia. The town has artworks on the silos and a very large roundabout for a small community. It was established in 1900 and reminded me of something a university friend said to some Americans who were studying in the UK: ‘I suppose you have to come here as you don’t have any history over there’. He obviously has not been to Australia where European history is even more recent and indigenous history often not easily accessible by others. Our road began to traverse some hills and we were now back in mining and road train country. As we descended into Esperance there was more water around with lakes, ponds and nature reserves. All we had time for before dark was a short walk along the esplanade where the old pier was in the background near our motel was the sculpture by Cindy Poole and Jason Woolridge: Whale Tail. Our mileage was 381 making the trip total 8,128.

Around Australia: Geraldton to the Turquoise Coast


A couple of nights in Geraldton provided a break from long drives and time to re-supply. James was waiting outside the barber with three other guys before he opened at 8.30am. There only seem to be two in the city that we could find. He had a chat with the barber while his hair was being cut and mentioned the observation that he thought beards were more common in Australia than the UK. The barber agreed and noted that the hipster vogue for beards was keeping him in business as many guys wanted them professionally trimmed. The next stop was the Western Australian Museum which is well worth a visit. It covers the areas archaeology, natural history, settlement, the experience of the indigenous people, later migration and shipwrecks that have occurred along the coast. Admission is by donation. Nearby was a café overlooking the marina which was an ideal coffee top-up and a little further on past the main shopping street, a pop-up secondhand bookshop in which I found a book about the River Road in Louisiana: the southern part of the Great River Road we would like to drive at some point. Continuing along Marine Terrace eventually takes you past the port where the grain is loaded onto ships to Point Moore Lighthouse and beach. The lighthouse is Australia’s oldest and has been operational since 1878.

We had a walk along the beach and near the vehicle access was an osprey nest with three youngsters in it.

The road carries on around the point and back into town where we looked in the impressive Cathedral of St Francis Xavier. It was built in stages from the first part in 1918. A shortage of funds and artistic conflict delayed work until 1926 and was eventually completed in 1936.


The Anglican Cathedral is a little further up the avenue but is an unattractive 1960s-style concrete building. In front of the Queens Park Theatre is what from the road I thought was a sculpture but is in fact a sundial. The Iris Sundial was a gift to the city by the artist Bill Newbold who named it after his wife. A plate in front explains how it works. We tested it and found it to be accurate with date and time. Newbold took to designing sundials after he retired from the fishing industry and there are others around the city.

The following morning, we were back on Highway One referred to as the Brand Highway in these parts. We reached the twin seaside towns of Dongara and Port Denison at coffee time and found the Seaspray café down by the beach. It was well-signposted from the highway. There was a comfortable sofa, good coffee and various, home-made jams, art works and succulent arrangements for sale. The tide was in so there was not much beach to walk on and the only information board on local species was for fish. Fishing is a very popular hobby around here. On the way out, we passed the turn-off for Port Denison where this red fellow symbolises how important crayfishing is for the local industry.

Highway 60, known as the Indian Ocean Drive diverts from Highway One and continues through several coastal communities. We had not gone far when I spotted the turn-off for the Grigson Lookout. It is named after a pioneer whose family have farmed here for several generations. There are 360 degree views over the salt lakes, the gypsum and sand mines and towards the coast. Having thought some of the landscapes we travelled through a while back resembled parts of Utah near the Great Salt Lake, I was intrigued to see Salt Lakes here. This is the Australian equivalent of a trig point at 30m altitude.

This part of the west coast is knwown as the Turquoise Coast and Jurien Bay is the largest town. We found parking near the pier and beach and ate our lunch spot observed by some noisy gulls. There were only four watching us but as we passed the picnic tables later and another couple were eating. Word had got out and there were around twenty gulls. It reminded me of this notice spotted in Fremantle seven years ago:

Robinson Island is known to have rare Australian sea lions and at this time of year migrating cetaceans can sometimes be seen offshore. So far, we have not seen any despite scanning the ocean whenever we have the opportunity. We reached Cervantes and settled into our motel. The next few days will be devoted to visiting the Desert of Pinnacles and then visiting relatives and friends in Perth for a few days.